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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Yonah Burr

Behaaloscha: The Vilna Gaon's Yetzer Hara

עד חדש ימים עד אשר יצא מאפכם והיה לכם לזרא יען כי מאסתם את ד' אשר בקרבכם ותבכו לפניו לאמר למה זה יצאנו ממצרים.

Until an entire month of days, until it comes out of your nose, and becomes nauseating to you, because you have rejected Hashem Who is in your midst

Even after witnessing the continuous guiding Hand of Hashem, taking them out of Mitzrayim, protecting them in the desert, leading them towards Eretz Yisroel, still the Jewish People find themselves complaining.

This time it is about meat; the Manna that fell daily isn’t enough; it is too boring. We want meat. Rashi tells us that Moshe had a ‘debate’ with Hashem, whether or not to deliver on the request for meat, because regardless of what Hashem would give, the people would say they wanted something else.

How are we to understand this constant complaining and bitterness?

Rashi, citing the Sifrei, makes an amazing statement:

אם לא שנטעתי שכינתי ביניכם לא גבה לבבכם ליכנס לכל הדברים הללו

“if not for the fact that My Shechina dwells among you, you would never have entered into such complaints”.

Rashi is telling us, that, on the contrary, because of, and not in spite of, the closeness to Hashem, precisely the closeness, is what led the people to complain the way they did.

Rav Shimon Schwab explains:

The concept of free will is tantamount to our faith. The entire advantage that a human being has over the other creations is the fact that we are empowered to choose between right and wrong. We therefore deserve credit for our correct choices, and blame for the poor ones.

As we climb the ladder of our service of Hashem, our perception of truth increases, and we are that much closer to Hashem. In a way, this hinders our subsequent bechira, in as much that it is harder to choose ‘bad’. In order to counterbalance this, Hashem has to grant more power to the Yetzer HaRa, to increase the pressure to sin, to keep the choice equal.

A simpleton once approached the great Vilna Gaon and said “if only I would have your Yetzer Hara, who would try to get me to waste but a few moments of Torah and mitzvos, and not have my Yetzer Hatov, who merely tries to get me to do but a few moments of Torah and mitzvos!” whereupon the Gaon sighed, and said “I wouldn’t wish my Yetzer HaRa onto anyone” Presumably, the Gaon meant this idea; the greater we are, the stronger the Yetzer HaRa is, and it is actually the greatest Tzaddikim that are fighting the hardest battles.

This gives us a way to understand the behavior of the Jewish People in the desert; precisely because of their closeness, they had such a strong temptation and sometimes succumbed.

May we all merit climbing higher and higher, until we, too, can have the Yetzer Hara of the Gaon!

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

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